QUESTIONS FOR A JURY CONSULTANT
On the frequent business flights I take around the country, I often strike up a conversation with the person seated next to me on the airplane. I try not to be “that guy” who bugs someone who clearly wants to be left alone, but when I am seated in the middle a little polite conversation can help set the stage for a request later to let me through to go to the restroom.
Inevitably, these conversations come around to the standard question: “So, what do you do?” When I reply that I am a trial consultant the listener often has a confused look on their face, as they are not familiar with such a profession. That is not surprising, as trial consulting as an industry has only been around since the late 1970s. I try to give a quick answer that encapsulates all that we do and why we do it without going into all of the details of the job. Here’s how the jury consultant questions they have usually go:
Q: What do trial consultants do?
A: Trial consultants provide a full range of research and trial consulting services, including case strategy, pre-trial jury research, development of case themes, witness preparation, jury selection, assistance with opening statement and closing argument, and post-trial juror interviews.
Q: What kind of background do most trial consultants have?
A: At Tsongas, our trial consultants fall into two main categories: individuals with advanced degrees in communication and those with training in social or legal psychology. Background in communications and persuasion helps provide an understanding into what types of arguments and strategies will result in someone changing their mind about an issue. An understanding of the research on both speakers and audiences helps in the preparation of speeches and testimony and the identification of jurors who will be unbiased in their decision-making. Social and legal psychologists focus on how people make decisions and how their attitudes and experiences influence their decision-making. This understanding is critical to identifying juror bias and strategies that appeal to different types of thinkers.
Q: Why do attorneys use trial consultants? Aren’t they trained to do the same thing?
A: Most attorneys do not have extensive background in communication theory or social psychology. Their expertise is in the law and how the law applies to their cases, and they have significant training in these areas. Many attorneys do not get training in trial advocacy, and if they do, it is only one class. Additionally, most cases are settled before they reach trial, so many attorneys have limited opportunities to argue in front of a jury. Trial consultants supplement the expertise possessed by attorneys by providing advice on how to shape their arguments for an audience that is not experienced in the law or the subject matter of the case and in identifying jurors who will hear the evidence without significant prejudice.
Q: What kind of cases can benefit from the use of a trial consultant?
A: Really, a trail consultant can potentially help on any type of case, with different services being appropriate for different matters. For cases with one or two key witnesses, some witness training and practice might be the best avenue to follow. For large, complex cases, the development of key themes is essential. Mock trials and focus groups are especially useful when it is time to test themes and see what issues stand out most for the type of people who will hear the case. We’ve worked on cases with multi-billions of dollars on the line, as well as cases with smaller dollar amounts but, that are critical to the parties involved.
A few minutes of chatter about the legal system usually is enough for most flyers, and the noise-cancelling headphones are usually engaged at that point by both my seatmate and me. But at least I have introduced another person to the field of trial consulting, answered some of their jury consultant questions and established the rapport I might need to smooth over any later inconveniences I might foist upon my neighbor.